In 2014 Democrat Gwen Graham unseated Republican incumbent Steven Southerland in Florida’s Second Congressional District. Growing up she saw her father, Democratic Florida Governor and United States Senator Daniel Robert (Bob) Graham, build personal relationships with voters and prioritize his work in Congress for the people of his state. Gwen Graham was determined to do the same in the House. Although redistricting limited her congressional career to one term, Graham spent her time on Capitol Hill working on behalf of her northwest Florida constituents. With her victory, Graham became the 13th woman in U.S. history to follow her father into Congress.
Gwen Graham was born in Miami Lakes, Florida, on January 31, 1963.1 Her mother, Adele Khoury, began her career as a public school teacher in Massachusetts and later spent 25 years as a school volunteer.2 Her father, Senator Bob Graham, ascended through Florida politics and became well known across the state. In 1979 then-state senator Graham won election as governor, and Gwen Graham and her three younger sisters moved to Tallahassee to live in the governor’s mansion with their parents.3
Graham graduated from Leon High School in Tallahassee in 1980.4 She earned a BA in political science from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1984 and married Mark Logan in 1985.5 After earning a JD from American University in Washington, DC, in 1988, Graham worked in a law firm focused on energy and environmental issues.6 In 1990 with the birth of her first child, Sarah, Graham temporarily stopped practicing law and worked from her home in Florida. She later had two sons, Graham and Mark. Congresswoman Graham and her husband later divorced.7
Graham jumped into politics in 2003 when her father announced his candidacy for President after serving for 16 years in the U.S. Senate. She worked for her father’s campaign and resumed her law practice, and after her father withdrew from the race in the fall, Gwen became Florida’s national campaign liaison for Senator John Kerry’s presidential team. It was around this time that Graham floated the idea of running for Congress in 2006.8 But she did not immediately seek public office. Instead, she accepted an offer from the Leon County school district to work as director of employee relations. She later became the director for professional standards and chief of labor and employee relations in the county school system.9 In 2010, Graham married Steven Hurm, a Florida law enforcement officer.10
In 2013 Graham announced her campaign for the House against Republican incumbent Steve Southerland. Southerland had won election in 2010 and entered the House as a Member of the new Republican majority.11 Given his comfortable re-election in 2012, and the fact that Mitt Romney carried the district in the presidential election that year, Democrats in the district had a number of obstacles stacked against them heading into the 2014 midterms.12 But Graham was confident she could successfully appeal to the politically diverse district by connecting with its constituents.
Graham met a number of voters and better learned the needs of the 2nd District through a practice she borrowed from her father called a “Graham Workday.” During these events, Graham assisted local businesses, schools, and farms with their daily tasks. She spent some of her campaigning days cleaning goat stalls, sweeping barber shop floors, and riding alongside police officers.13
Critics of Graham accused her of taking advantage of her father’s reputation, and doubted she could build one of her own. Graham saw this criticism as a comment on her gender. “I don't think if my father had had a son that there would have been that hesitation to make sure that I had all the skill sets before I offered myself for office,” Graham said.14 As she had noted at the start of her campaign, “I love my dad and I’m very proud of him, but I am running this campaign as Gwen Graham.”15
Both Graham and Southerland ran unopposed in their party primaries.16 As the general election drew near, Graham raised more money than Southerland and newspapers nationwide reported neck-and-neck poll numbers. With the race tightening, the Washington Post named Southerland one of the “10 Most Endangered House Members” just a month before the election.17
On Election Day, Graham beat Southerland by 2,470 votes—less than one percentage point. She was one of two Democrats to defeat Republican incumbents that year.18
When Graham arrived in Washington, she and three other Democrats voted against Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California to head the party for another Congress.19 It was a message to her district that she would vote independently in the House. On the policy side, Graham won powerful committee assignments that directly benefited her district. On the House Agriculture Committee, she focused on her district’s many farms and cosponsored legislation to protect Florida’s crops from insects. With her other appointment to the House Armed Services Committee, she worked to create recovery programs for injured veterans.20 While Graham voted with her party on legislation regarding women’s rights and immigrant protection, she occasionally sided with Republicans on foreign affairs and environmental policy.21
Graham continued her “Workdays” on her visits back to the district, which often corresponded with bills she introduced. After a day spent packing, serving, and delivering meals to elderly constituents, she introduced the Senior Citizen Protection Act of 2016 (H.R. 5694), which proposed creating a registry of businesses and individuals that committed fraud against seniors.22 After a “Workday” at a textile factory, Graham re-introduced a bill her Republican predecessor had first submitted called the Northwest Florida Jobs Certainty Act (H.R. 1696), which amended trade regulations on fabric.23
During the 114th Congress, Florida redrew the 2nd Congressional District. The new seat leaned more Republican than Graham’s former constituency, and rather than seek re-election to the 115th Congress (2017–2019), Graham retired from the House at the end of her term.24 In May 2017, Graham announced her candidacy for governor of Florida.25
1“Florida-2: Gwen Graham (D),” National Journal, www.nationaljournal.com/almanac/114th-congress-new-members/ (accessed 18 November 2014; site discontinued).
2Adele Khoury Graham, “Adele Khoury Graham’s Parents Drawn to Each Other from Far-Flung Locales,” 1 May 2009, Miami Herald, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/miami-stories/article1932943.html (accessed 15 May 2017).
3Dorothy Clifford, “Invitation to a Homecoming,” 3 March 2007, Tallahassee Democrat: S10.
4"Gwen Graham,” Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress, 1774 to Present, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=G000575.
5“New Graham Rising on Political Horizon,” 4 June 2004, St. Petersburg Times (FL): 1B.
6“Gwen Graham,” Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress, 1774 to Present; “Meet Gwen,” personal website of Representative Gwen Graham, accessed 5 November 2014, https://gwengraham.com/meet-gwen/ (site discontinued).
8“New Graham Rising on Political Horizon”; “Meet Gwen.”
10Leon County Sheriff’s Office, “Sheriff Wood Names Stephen Hurm LCSO General Counsel,” press release, 20 August 2016, accessed 15 May 2017, http://www.leoncountyso.com/docs/default-source/news-releases/sheriff-wood-names-stephen-hurm-lcso-general-counsel.pdf.
11Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Congress Profiles: 112th Congress (2011–2013),” http://history.house.gov/Congressional-Overview/Profiles/112th/; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics/.
12Travis Pillow, “Gwen Graham Brings Political Message to Wakulla,” 5 June 2014, Tallahassee Democrat: n.p.; Adam C. Smith, “Top of the Ticket Making 2014 GOP Prospects Nervous,” 26 May 2013, Tampa Bay Times: B1.
13“Meet Gwen,” official gubernatorial campaign website for Gwen Graham, accessed 31 May 2017, https://gwengraham.com/about/.
14Donna Cassata, “Female Candidates Boost Dems Hopes in Tough Year,” 11 May 2014, Great Falls Tribune (MT): A1.
15Arek Sarkissian, II, “Graham’s Daughter to Run for Congress,” 2 April 2013, Tallahassee Democrat: n.p.
16“Florida Primary Results,” 270 to Win, accessed 15 May 2017, http://www.270towin.com/news/2014/08/27/florida-primary-results_16.html#.WS75Jty1u71.
17Sean Sullivan and Aaron Blake, “The 10 Most Endangered House Members,” 8 September 2014, Washington Post: A2.
18Rosalind S. Helderman, “GOP Pads Numbers in House with New Group of Conservative,” 5 November 2014, Washington Post: A16.
19Ledyard King, “Graham Says Votes Based on ‘Facts, not Politics,’ ” 20 September 2015, Tallahassee Democrat, http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/politics/2015/09/20/grahams-recent-votes-lack-support/72547214/ (accessed 15 May 2017).
20Representative Gwen Graham, “Rep. Graham Assigned Subcommittees with North Florida Ties,” press release, accessed 7 September 2016, https://graham.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/rep-graham-assigned-subcommittees-north-florida-ties (site discontinued).
21King, “Graham Says Votes Based on ‘Facts, not Politics.’
22Angie Cook, “Graham Legislation Would Create Elder Abuse Registry,” 28 June 2016, Jackson County Floridan, http://www.dothaneagle.com/jcfloridan/news/politics/graham-legislation-would-create-elder-abuse-registry/article_bd092b8b-a9eb-5380-b678-c3ca2c080566.html (accessed 20 June 2017).
23Angie Cook, “Graham Puts in ‘Workday’ at Chipley Textile Factory,” 9 April 2015, Jackson County Floridan, http://www.dothaneagle.com/jcfloridan/news/politics/graham-puts-in-workday-at-chipley-textile-factory/article_4b2f7ae0-050b-5720-9ec1-7eb0ae25bf54.html (accessed 20 June 2017). For a list of legislation Representative Graham sponsored, see “Representative Gwen Graham,” Library of Congress, accessed 25 October 2017, https://www.congress.gov/member/gwen-graham/G000575.
24Associated Press, “Gwen Graham, Florida Congresswoman, Leaving Office Over District Changes,” 21 April 2016, Washington Times, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/apr/21/florida-congresswoman-leaving-office-over-district/ (accessed 15 May 2017); Ledyard King, “Gwen Graham Faces ‘Tough Decisions’ on Political Future,” 17 January 2016, Tallahassee Democrat, http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/politics/2016/01/17/gwen-graham-faces-tough-decision-political-future/78858870/ (accessed 15 May 2017).
25Laura Ruane, “Gwen Graham Announces Run for Governor,” 2 May 2017, Tallahassee Democrat, http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2017/05/02/graham-announces-run-governor/101194124/ (accessed 15 May 2017).